Washington Officials: Netanyahu 'Playing Politics' at Expense of Israel-U.S. Ties

U.S. officials warned that the breach of diplomatic protocol could have long-term implications for the administration’s attitude toward Netanyahu and his government.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, file photo, 2014.
President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, file photo, 2014.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Senior U.S. officials continued over the weekend to harshly criticize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the invitation from leading Republicans to address Congress in March. In background briefings to U.S. media outlets, administration officials said Netanyahu was “playing politics” at the expense of the U.S.-Israeli strategic relationship.

The Washington Post quoted senior U.S. officials who attacked Netanyahu and Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer. According to a report from Friday, during a two-hour meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday, Dermer did not mention Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to the United States, his planned address to a joint session of the Congress or the public invitation that House Speaker John Boehner was to issue less than a day later.

According to senior U.S. officials quoted by the Post, Kerry was insulted by Netanyahu’s and Dermer’s conduct because in recent weeks the secretary of state had conducted at least 50 phone calls with world leaders on issues of importance to Israel, such as the vote in the UN Security Council and the Palestinians’ application to join the International Criminal Court.

The Post said U.S. officials warned that the breach of diplomatic protocol could have long-term implications for the administration’s attitude toward Netanyahu and his government.

“The bilateral relationship is unshakable, but playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerry’s enthusiasm for being Israel’s primary defender,” The Post quoted a source close to Kerry who was not identified as saying. “The secretary’s patience is not infinite,” he added.

Friday’s New York Times editorial also criticized Netanyahu, saying, “As for Mr. Netanyahu, it’s hard to see how disrespecting an American president whom even he says has significantly advanced Israel’s security can benefit his country.”

Netanyahu’s political rivals at home also took him to task over the affair, saying his conduct toward the White House was harmful to the security of the state and of Israel Defense Forces troops.

Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who is fielding a joint slate with Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog in the March election, said that while the United States was helping Israel with a number of critical issues such as the Palestinians’ request to join the ICC, Netanyahu was sabotaging Israel’s relationship with Washington.

“A responsible prime minister who first thinks of the good of his country’s citizens does not do such a thing,” Livni said, adding, “A responsible prime minister would know to work with the president of the United States — with any president — and protect our most important interests.”

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid also took Netanyahu to task. “For the sake of one election speech, Netanyahu is destroying our strategic relationship with the United States,” Lapid said. “Israel’s voice on the Iranian issue must be heard loud and clear, but in this case, the opposite is happening. If the Iranian issue were guiding Netanyahu, as he says, he would act differently and cooperate with the White House. This is damage that will be hard to repair,” Lapid said.

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